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The union member malaise

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On March 13, 1964, the nation was stunned by the senseless murder of a young woman, Catherine (Kitty) Genovese  in Queens, N.Y. Although her attack was brutal, especially horrifying was the lack of neighborhood response to the attack.

Genovese was first stabbed at approximately 3:15a.m. Her screams immediately awakened neighbors on the otherwise quiet, tree-lined street, and many opened their windows to investigate. No one bothered to even call the police for 35 minutes. By then, it was too late.

This apathy has since been labeled both “the bystander effect” and “the Genovese syndrome.” In the 47 years since Genovese’s murder, the disease has infiltrated other areas of society. In March 2005, neighbors ignored the screams  of a 70-year-old rape victim in Pompano Beach.

Last month, we learned that the infection has spread not just geographically, but also professionally. On May 30, police and firefighters stood on an Alameda, Calif., beach and watched a man drown150 yards away. A police lieutenant on the scene attributed the lack of response to budgetary constraints. Cuts in police and firefighters’ budgets meant they didn’t receive adequate water-rescue training, the lieutenant explained. Accordingly, he was concerned about liability.

What the lieutenant did not say was that the man was standing, not treading, in water too shallow for a Coast Guard boat to make an approach. Lack of training? They could have waded to the victim! Furthermore, it took an hour for the man to drown, while the lieutenant’s mind was otherwise occupied by “budgetary constraints.”

This incident goes far beyond the “bystander effect.” I call it the “union member malaise,” which can be summed up in one of two sentences: “It’s not my job,” or “It’s not my fault.”

It’s characterized by job performance and professional responsibility taking a back seat to union benefits and personal liability. We saw “union member malaise” in action in February, when teachers called in sick to demonstrate at the capitol building in Madison, Wis. Eventually, even the police joined the demonstration,  the very police who took an oath to maintain law and order and defend their Constitution.

Every now and then, I’ll hear someone suggest unionizing the Armed Forces. May God protect us if we do; we would then be incapable of protecting ourselves.


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